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Shining a spotlight on medicating kids

by PeakCare Qld on 6th May 2015

Home -> Articles -> 2015 -> May -> Shining a spotlight on medicating kids

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Concerns about children in care as well as those from the general population being prescribed psychotropic medication, is not a new issue. During the recent Queensland Child Protection Commission of Inquiry (Carmody Inquiry), for example, the Youth Affairs Network of Queensland (YANQ) lodged a submission that specifically addressed their longstanding concerns about this matter.

There is now new and additional information emerging that should heighten our concerns and commitment to seeking a better understanding and judicious management of these medications. In the recently published Courier Mail article, Fears for toddlers on psych scripts, concerns are reported on about the doubling over five years in the number of Australian pre-schoolers being prescribed anti-psychotic drugs. As reported on in this article, federal health department figures indicate that 1100 children aged between 2 and 6 years were given anti-psychotic drugs under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme in 2012-13, up from 523 in 2007-08. In Queensland, the figure rose from 169 to 296, representing a 75% increase.

In respect of Queensland children, a perhaps even more alarming on-line article, Anti-psychotic medication overprescribed to Australian children, experts saywas published by the ABC in late 2014. Within this article it is noted that Queensland has the highest rate of prescribing three common anti-psychotic medications to children – almost double the rate of some other States. A graph included in this article provides a vividly alarming view of the comparison made with other States. Can it be that Queensland children are that ‘different’ to their peers in other States? Do the figures say something about the needs of Queensland children in comparison with others? Or do they say something about the preferred practices of Queensland in comparison with other States in relation to the ways in which children’s needs are being understood and addressed? Or do they perhaps indicate a mix of both?

It should be noted that these figures relate to children from the general population. They do not relate specifically to children in care. As far as PeakCare is aware, there is no data that specifically relates to children in care.

The concerns being highlighted by the media closely match those raised by our member agencies during the recent series of roundtable meetings conducted by PeakCare in seven locations across the State. Representatives of numerous organisations involved in providing out-of-home care and those providing family support services gave anecdotal reports of increasing numbers of children, very young children especially, being prescribed psychotropic medications.

As PeakCare continues our current project to develop a trauma-informed framework for residential care of children and young, we are concerned, of course, about the ways in which any ‘treatment regime’ (whether that includes use of these types of medication or not) ‘fits within’ the framework that is finally produced.

There should be similar concerns held about the broader ‘framework for child protection practice’ that has recently been developed and is being introduced to government and non-government organisations in the current roll-out of foundational training workshops. How will this framework take into account and/or deal with current practices concerning the use (or mis-use) of psychotropic medications?

Those who attended the Why two brains aren’t always better than one. Promoting positive brain change from the inside out conference hosted by the Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services in November 2014 may recall the presenters, Gregory Nicolau from the Australian Childhood Trauma Groupand Dr Dave Zeigler from Jasper Mountain expressing their concerns about the mis-diagnosis of ADHD due to the similarity of symptoms with those displayed by children in response to traumatic events arising out of child abuse and/or neglect.

Pleasingly, PeakCare has recently been contacted by some paediatricians and allied health professionals with a special interest in child protection who are interested in further examining the issues concerning the use of prescribed psychotropic medications. We will keep you posted about what this might lead into.

In the meantime, let us know more about your organisation’s observations and thoughts about this issue by entering your comments below.